“Manchester council to publish files used to bypass affordable housing quotas”

“Manchester city council has voted to make public the secret documents used by developers to bypass affordable housing quotas.

Analysis by the Guardian earlier this month showed that developers behind almost 15,000 new homes given the green light by the council’s planning committee in the past two years all managed to avoid including any affordable housing in their developments.

In many cases, developers submitted confidential viability assessments to successfully argue that their projects would not go ahead if they were to offer even one flat for affordable rent or sale. Just 65 of the 14,667 units analysed by the Guardian made any concessions to affordability, being pitched as shared ownership properties.

Over the past year councillors on Manchester city council’s planning committee have become increasingly frustrated that they are being asked to approve huge new developments – some containing 1,500 market-rate, luxury apartments – without being able to scrutinise the viability assessments.

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On Wednesday councillors voted to require viability assessments for developments of more than 15 units where less than 20% of the development is affordable housing as part of the planning process and for these to be public.

After the unanimous vote, all information submitted for the documents (including commercially sensitive information) will also now be made available to members of the planning committee and other relevant members of the council in advance of determination of the planning decision.

The motion read: “This council notes that developers have often used viability assessments to avoid their obligations to provide affordable housing and where this happens, it can damage public confidence in the planning process. Labour councils in Greenwich, Bristol and Lambeth have improved transparency by making their viability assessments public. “This council believes that the developers who make money from building in our city have an obligation to make a fair contribution to providing affordable housing.”

Last November Bristol became the latest city to force developers to be transparent by publishing viability assessments. Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, believes that it sends a signal to developers: “We’re a great city to do business in – but we want the right kind of money.”